Pharma leans into telehealth, Flo’s anonymous mode arrives, and clever digital deals

You’re reading the web edition of STAT Health Tech, our guide to how tech is transforming the life sciences. Sign up to get this newsletter delivered in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday. 

How drug companies are moving units online

Drug ads have long tried to influence patient’s medical choices, directing them to “ask your doctor” if a marketed medication is right for them. But when a patient sees an ad or visits a manufacturer’s website today, many will find buttons to “talk to a doctor now.” Clicking through will take them to a third-party site that asks questions about their health — and eligibility for that particular drug — before letting them schedule a virtual visit.


As Katie reports, this market for ad-linked telehealth is growing fast in the wake of the pandemic. For some patients, that kind of access will be an advantage — and it certainly appeals to drug companies, which can use telehealth platforms to capture detailed data about their customers while getting more prescriptions filled. But experts worry that the emerging model will benefit pharma’s bottom line far more than patient care, by driving potentially unnecessary and costly medication use.

To share your experience with this emerging form of telehealth, feel free to reach out to [email protected] — we won’t share anything without your permission.


Flo’s anonymous mode is finally out

Remember period tracking app Flo Health’s promise to issue an “anonymous mode” that would safeguard potentially sensitive reproductive data? It’s finally available, nearly three months after the overturning of Roe v. Wade  ignited widespread concern that data from apps might be used to pursue legal action in states where abortion is restricted. Flo was the focus of concern, both because of its dominant market share and because it has been previously scrutinized by regulators for privacy practices.

Flo, and competitor Natural Cycles, announced that so-called anonymous modes would allow users to keep their data away from prying eyes. To Flo’s credit, it appears to be taking the concerns seriously. The company partnered with top security firm Cloudflare on the feature, and released a white paper detailing its technical specs. Natural Cycles has not launched its anonymous mode yet.

All we need now is better privacy regulations to make such measures standard practice.

So what tech will physicians adopt next?

Since 2016, the American Medical Association has been surveying physicians about digital health, and the latest iteration, including responses from 1,300 doctors, adds a dash of surprising insight while confirming what we’ve seen so far about health tech use in the pandemic. To begin with the rote: Yes, the chart above reveals the well-established boom in telehealth utilization. “Enthusiasm” for televisits also charted much higher than other solutions.

An analysis in the appendix plots various trends along an adoption curve and finds that televisits are teetering on the edge of so mainstream that only so-called “laggards” haven’t jumped on board. For remote patient monitoring, which pundits love to tout as the future, adoption remains relatively low, though many physicians report plans to embrace it within a year.

Cognitive training to treat Alzheimer’s

Progress on drugs for Alzheimer’s Disease remains stalled, opening the door for companies that want to provide tech-based treatments to stop or reverse brain deterioration. A newly published feasibility study of a computerized cognitive training program designed to improve language, memory, and attention from the firm Constant Therapy showed promising preliminary results indicating people may stick with the home-based treatment for months. Constant Therapy’s tools are currently used by thousands of clinics supporting rehabilitation care.

The study recruited 19 people with mild cognitive impairment due to AD or mild AD dementia; half were randomized to receive Constant Therapy’s treatment for 24 weeks and the other half received booklets of brain teasers and puzzles. There was better adherence to Constant Therapy than the brain teasers, and the results indicated“the individualized training approach modeled by Constant Therapy is appropriate for a population with [Alzheimer’s disease].” Next up: a randomized controlled trial must show that the program can move the needle on brain function in a larger group.

A clever deal to offer mental health apps to patients

Pharmaceutical company Orexo announced a very interesting deal to bring Vorvida, its app to help people cut back on drinking, and Deprexis, for depression, to patients of Trinity Health in North Dakota and Montana. The health system serves over 200,000 people in the states, which rank among the worst in the country for binge drinking, according to CDC. The software will be given to patients as part of collaborative care, a team-based model for delivering behavioral health treatment alongside primary care. Where many companies marketing software-based treatments — sometimes called digital therapeutics — have struggled to find ways to get commercial insurance companies as well as Medicaid and Medicare to reliably reimburse the treatments, Orexo’s products are supporting counseling services Trinity can bill for.

Evernorth boosts support for digital health services

Evernorth, the health care services arm of Cigna, announced an expansion of its digital health formulary. Like CVS Health’s point solutions management program, Evernorth’s digital formulary is a list of vetted services that organizations can offer to benefits plan members. Evernorth boasts that plans covering 20 million people use a solution from the formulary, and with a glut of hard-to-distinguish digital tools on offer, getting Evernorth’s stamp of approval can be useful. New additions include Big Health’s apps for the treatment of anxiety and depression and Quit Genius’ products for alcohol use disorder and opiate user disorder. In addition, Evernorth is launching pilots to evaluate services, including Hinge Health’s pelvic floor physical therapy, Zerigo’s light therapy for psoriasis, and Jasper’s cancer care navigation platform.

Industry news

  • Kyruus, best known as a scheduling platform for health care organizations, acquired patient engagement company Epion Health. The duo support over 500 health systems and medical groups.
  • Truveta, which hopes to collect de-identified patient data for medical research, added partnerships with four new health systems: WellSpan HealthCentura HealthMetroHealth, and Virtua Health. Truveta brags that it now has 24 members covering 43 states
  • Sony and hearing aid company WS Audiology announced a partnership to develop and market over-the-counter hearing aids, in what’s surely just one of many big-name consumer electronics manufacturers to develop a business around the FDA’s new rules permitting the products.

Personnel file

  • Virtual speciality care business Thirty Madison, which under several brands helps people with allergies, migraines, reproductive health, hair loss, and more, announced Quan Zhang will be its new chief financial officer. Zhang previously worked in high-level roles at Sanofi and Pfizer.
  • Amwell appointed  Vaughn Paunovich as executive vice president, enterprise platforms, and Matthew McAllister as chief product officer.  Paunovich joins from UnitedHealth Group and McAllister from Amazon.
  • Wheel, which provides white label services to help companies deliver virtual care, hired Sameer Merchant as chief technology officer and Steve Manning as senior vice president, product. Both join from Autodesk.

What we’re reading

  • These 3 startups are trying to improve diversity in clinical trials, a challenge experts say will take more than just tech, STAT
  • Prospective associations of daily step counts and intensity with cancer and cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and all-cause mortality, JAMA Internal Medicine
  • There’s no place like home: CVS And Walgreens zero in on the home care imperative, Forrester
  • Redesign Health raises $65 million to build healthcare startups, Fast Company
  • DEA investigating telehealth provider Done, Wall Street Journal
Source: STAT